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Why Obama Watched Football Instead of Going to Paris

Why Obama Watched Football Instead of Going to Paris

President Barack Obama, we are told, watched the NFL playoffs on Sunday instead of going to the anti-terror rally in Paris. Moreover, his apparent representative in Paris, controversial Attorney General Eric Holder, taped Sunday shows from the French capital but failed to attend the rally itself. Secretary of State John Kerry had a valid excuse–a critical mission to India–but Vice President Joe Biden did not. Why was the Obama administration so visibly absent in Paris?

The answer is more specific than the Obama administration’s general inattention to national security and foreign policy–though there is something to that: after all, this is the man who learned about the Benghazi terror attacks as they began, did little to respond, and flew to a Las Vegas fundraiser the next day. The answer also goes beyond Obama’s odd desire to be seen as a mediator between the West and the Islamic world, rather than the leader of the free world against radicalism.

No–the answer almost certainly has to do with the fact that Obama–and Holder–have avoided all of the major so-called “civil rights” marches of the past several months. And they have taken heat for it from their political base: rapper Puff Daddy drew attention in August when he scolded Obama for his absence from Ferguson, Missouri, where black teenager Michael Brown was killed: “Obama, get on a plane — it’s serious. These are your people, baby. These are your people.” Holder did go to Ferguson–not to march but to speak with activists and officials behind the scenes, and try to broker an uneasy peace.

The Obama administration tried to let the demonstrators know that it was on their side, while at the same time not seeming to encourage the chaos that some of its surrogates–notably Al Sharpton–were encouraging, or at least tolerating. The pattern repeated itself after the Eric Garner crisis in New York: meetings, but no marches, for Obama.

After sitting out the “#HandsUpDontShoot” and “#BlackLivesMatter” demonstrations, Obama and Holder were not going to be caught on camera attending a “#JeSuisCharlie” rally in Paris, no matter how many other world leaders were going to be there in solidarity with the French people, with the Jewish people, or with freedom of expression in general.

When they returned, the backlash from their political base would have been too overwhelming: for distant strangers, but not for us?

The Obama administration will, no doubt, cite other factors, such as the difficulty of bringing along the extensive security force that the president would have required. But other leaders, such as Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, brought along their security and attended the march, regardless. The real reason is likely as I have argued above: Obama has cultivated a sense of racial angst in America that constrains his political choices.

So, forget Paris. Are you ready for some football?

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